Pop Cultural Crackdown in North Korea

The kitschy disco beats and saccharine melodies of South Korea’s native pop music industry have enjoyed massive global proliferation in recent years, allowing overseas connoisseurs ever greater access to the subject of their fandom.

or the population of closest neighbour North Korea, however, such pleasures remain resolutely clandestine and continue to carry the risk of persecution: Seoul based online newspaper NK Daily reported recently that the Ministry of Peoples Safety had renewed efforts to crack down on South Korean cultural imports, issuing a ban on more than five hundred songs of South Korean origin or influence.  The songs are understood to have been deemed ‘anti-socialist’.

Under Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leadership maintained an iron grip on all forms of cultural and artistic expression, and were infamous for the brutal suppression of all outside influence.  Kim’ son Kim Jong-un, however, was reportedly a devoted fan of Michael Jordan and action film star Jean Claude Van-Damme as a teenager, and is understood to maintain a keen interest in global popular culture.

[quote align=”center” color=”#b64736″]  With his rise to power, some analysts predicted a relaxing of limits to personal freedoms and restrictions on cultural imports.[/quote]

These predictions appeared to be borne out earlier this year; an  internet video showing five North Korean high school students performing a note perfect accordion rendition of 1980s hit ‘Take On Me’ became a you tube sensation in February, shocking many observers with its suggestion of greater freedom of access to Western cultural imports than was widely assumed to be enjoyed by the population of the shadowy state.

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBgMeunuviE[/youtube]

These latest reports suggest, however, that access is still severely constrained and closely monitored by officials.  In spite of some cosmetic concessions  – Mickey Mouse made his North Korean début at a recent parade attended by Kim – predicted policy shifts do not appear to have materialised.

In spite of the associated dangers, there is understood to be a thriving grass roots scene amongst North Korean youth, focussing on trade in mp3s of foreign pop music from South Korea and further afield.

photo dispatched by the Korean Central News Agency on March 3. (Korea News Service)

by Sam Jones


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